Dave Seddon's verdict: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Preston North End 0 - PNE's creativity is numbed at Hillsborough

The raw chill which froze toes and fingers at Hillsborough also numbed Preston North End’s attacking play in their defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 31st January 2021, 7:00 am

A poor game in an empty and echoing 40,000 seat ground was settled by Liam Palmer’s goal moments before half-time.

The Lilywhites had all of the second half to find an equaliser against an Owls side who weren’t bursting with ideas going forward either.

But their greater share of the ball and hard graft in two thirds of the pitch was to count for nothing as they offered little in the final third.

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Preston North End skipper Alan Browne challenges Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Keiran Westwood at Hillsborough

With just a one-goal deficit to chase, you would have expected a kitchen sink-throwing job in the final stages.

That didn’t materialise, it all ending in a bit of whimper rather than a grandstand finale.

Probably their best chance of salvaging a point came midway through the second half when they had a couple of decent openings.

PNE are very much a first goal team, score that and they tend to get something.

Jayson Molumby has a shot in PNE's defeat at Sheffield Wednesday

Only once this season have they scored the game’s first goal and go on to lose, that at Barnsley before Christmas.

On the flip side, they’ve won twice in the league coming back from a losing position, doing so impressively at Brentford and Huddersfield.

It was frustration rather than anger in Alex Neil’s tone post-match as he picked through the pieces of defeat in an inconsistent season.

Front three Emil Riis, Brad Potts and Scott Sinclair only briefly impacted the game.

Sheffield Wednesday's Osaze Urhoghide gets above PNE winger Scott Sinclair

Midfielders Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby were behind the greater share of North End’s chances.

The pair both had shots in the first half and combined for the second-half’s best chance which Whiteman lifted into the Kop rather than the net.

Neil got it in the neck from fans on social media for his set-up and tactical approach.

Riis led the attack down the middle but struggled to get involved as he chased the ball down channels and chased to close down defenders.

PNE striker Emil Riis is challenged by Sheffield Wednesday skipper Tom Lees

Two sets of substitutions, a double and then a triple, were to make little impact.

It still ended up with one central striker in the shape of Tom Barkhuizen, flanked by Sinclair and a returning and rusty Billy Bodin.

Ched Evans stayed sat down on the bench as Neil sought to play through Wednesday in the closing stages rather than use the loan striker as a target.

“We didn’t create enough near the end,” said Neil.

“That was disappointing. I actually thought when we put on what I would deem to be our more creative players, that creativity actually got worse if I’m being honest.”

PNE have now lost to four of the teams in the current bottom five over the course of the season.

PNE manager Alex Neil at the final whistle with Paul Gallagher

Wednesday are one place off the foot of the table and next week, North End do battle with Rotherham who sit just ahead of the Owls.

They have fared better when facing teams at the top end of the Championship.

Neil’s men have beaten four of the top seven, taking a point off leaders Norwich.

There was little between them and Wednesday, the sides having the same number of shots – of which PNE got one more on target.

But the one stat which mattered was Palmer’s goal with the game in the 45th minute.

It was a bit of a mess from Preston’s point of view, totally avoidable.

Ryan Ledson got himself outnumbered in a midfield battle and the ball broke to Callum Paterson, his cross into the box headed clear by Paul Huntington.

Paterson launched the resulting throw-in long into the box, Tom Lees beating Andrew Hughes to help its across the six-yard box.

Elias Kachunga at the far post headed it back into the middle where Palmer stepped forward to net for the first time since September 2011.

Defeat came at the end of a couple of frenetic days in the transfer window which had seen Greg Cunningham come in and the departures of Ben Pearson and Darnell Fisher.

Pearson’s departure had been expected at some stage in January, Fisher’s less so.

The squad has undergone an overhaul, even if a lot of the movement in and out has involved loans.

If there is to be some more business before the deadline, on this evidence it is going forward where a bit more work needs to be done.

For this game it wasn’t a case of Neil needing to suddenly parachute people into the vacancies left by Pearson and Fisher.

Pearson hadn’t pulled on a PNE shirt since December 5, first because of injury and then because others had been signed to cover his anticipated departure.

For the previous two games, Fisher had sat on the bench with skipper Alan Browne picked ahead of him at right-back.

It was Browne who played that role again and one he’s likely to fill on a regular basis for the rest of the season unless North End decide to change course in this window.

The Irishman looks quite at home there but it takes him out of midfield where he has made his name at the club.

Before his switch into the back four, it had been more of a defensive midfield role he had been filling.

Not for a while have we seen Browne in the attacking No.10 role. Neil has Molumby to play there, he now knows he has Daniel Johnson to call on rather than fearing him leaving the club.

Molumby and fellow new recruit Whiteman have settled well.

In this one they perhaps didn’t stand out as much as in other games,Molumby though still lively.

Whiteman should have buried Molumby’s cut-back from the byline in the 67th minute. After that chance, Potts and Ledson were replaced by Barkhuizen and Johnson.

Neil then rolled the dice with Cunningham, Bodin and Joe Rafferty coming on.

Two full-backs in the three changes had a defensive look but Rafferty’s arrival pushed Browne into midfield and Cunningham was needed for Hughes who was injured.

Not a game to live long in the memory but it gave Neil lots to mull over as he pieces the new-look side.

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